State Appointee to Take over Gateway Board; Management, Services Raked at Mental Health Operation

Article excerpt

Byline: Terry Dickson, Times-Union staff writer

DARIEN -- The board that governs public mental health in eight coastal counties is expected to sign away all its power, perhaps as early as today, remove Executive Director Susan Broome and put a state-appointed consultant in charge, all in exchange for $1.3 million.

In trying to turn around the struggling Gateway Community Services Board in Darien, the state has documented a dreadful state of affairs in medical services and billing, organizational structure and management.

Rosa Kamson, regional coordinator of the state Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Addictive Disease in Brunswick, brought a contract to the board's Tuesday night meeting and said Gateway would receive $1.3 million if it agreed to nine points in the contract.

The gist is that state-appointed consultant Wayne W. Lindstrom will get full autonomy even if his initiatives contradict the board's bylaws. Kamson said there's still room for negotiation, but board Chairman Stephen D. Jessup made it clear he believes Kamson is powerless and that state directors are running the show from Atlanta.

As Kamson tried to make a point, Jessup, a McIntosh County commissioner, gaveled her down and said he at least still had control of the board meetings.

"It's take it or leave it is what I got from Atlanta. We need to make our decision based on whether we're going to honor the extortion," he said.

The board voted to take the offer, but only if the state agrees to a buyout of the remaining three years on Broome's contract as executive director for an estimated $300,000.

Jessup is authorized to sign the contract and put Lindstrom in control. Lindstrom has run the operation since the state hired him to engineer a turnaround in April. That contract expires at the end of the month, but Gateway lawyer David Will said there will be an identical arrangement coming for the next fiscal year that starts July 1.

That contract also will leave the board without real power, Will said.

"He'll have exclusive authority to take care of those things," Will said of Lindstrom's power on operations and personnel decisions. "He has no reporting responsibility to the board whatsoever."

Tim Hutchens, a Glynn County appointee on the board, said he will resign perhaps as early as today.

"This is pure extortion," Hutchens said. "The state of Atlanta is screwing the people of coastal Georgia. I've had a belly full of it."

Hutchens told employees -- there may have been as many as 100 at the meeting -- "I'm sorry. I don't know what's going to happen to you."

Jessup said the state helped put Gateway in a financial bind and then blamed it for bad management.

"They say you're a community service board and you're in charge, but then they don't let you run it," Jessup said.

He said the state took away money-making contracts, compelled Gateway to take over Tidelands, the badly managed community service board in Chatham County, refused to let Gateway furlough employees and freeze raises and then blamed Broome for a budget shortfall that is now about $4 million.

But Lindstrom found a lot of management problems that he outlined in a 27-page report including:

-- Medical services in such disarray that some psychiatrists were paid far more than they generated in billing. …